Beth's back; TNT's busy

We're heading into an odd month for TV -- lots of Christmas (which is a good thing), lots of reruns (which isn't) and occasional exceptions.

One of those is coming next Sunday (Dec. 4), when Syfy starts a splendid, two-night "Neverland" miniseries. And one starts now, when several TNT shows return for the second halves of their season.

Monday (Nov. 28) brings a good "Rizzoli & Isles" and an OK "The Closer"; prior to that, today (Sunday Nov. 27, then rerunning on two other days) brings an excellent "Leverage." Here's a story I sent to papers about "Leverage" co-star Beth Riesgraf:


As “Leverage” returns, Beth
Riesgraf gets to do what actors like most. That's … well,

Her character, Parker, is a true
believer in romance and Santa Claus. She's also a scam artist, cat
burglar and more. “I get to break a chair over a guy and ... do all
kinds of fun things,” Riesgraf said.

Which is the way she likes it. “I
love the physicality of both comedy and the stunt work,” she said.

“Leverage” is neatly suited for
that, with a former insurance investigator (Tim Hutton) leading
former crooks in tricking bad people. And Riesgraf's life is suited
for variety; it's been equally split between small-town Minnesota and
big-city Las Vegas.

First was Belle Plaine, a Minnesota
town of 3,100, midway between Minneapolis and Mankato.

“It gave me a sense of … community
and family,” Riesgraf said. “And I had all this freedom as a kid.
I grew up on 300 acres of land, with horse and animals and I had so
much freedom and independence.”

And then came the sudden shift. Most of
her dad's construction projects were in the West and most of the
Riesgraf kids were gone to college. So the family moved to Las Vegas
when Beth was 13.

“The biggest culture shock (was)
going from a class size of 53 people … to like 700 kids,”
Riesgraf said. “It was a big shock, but thankfully I adjusted
pretty quickly.”

That may be an understatement. At
Cimarron-Memorial High School, she was prom queen, senior body
president and voted “most admired senior.”

Even if she had stayed in Minnesota,
Riesgraf, 33, might have gone into the arts. (Two of her older
sisters went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.) But being
in Vegas sort of cinched it.

Sh began landing occasional TV roles a
decade ago and also started a romance with Jason Lee. They were
engaged at one point and have a son, Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf-Lee,
now 8; she also worked with Lee in two episodes of “My Name is
Earl” and the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie.

Still, Riesgraf was mostly unknown
until “Leverage” came along.

On one level, each character is
eccentric and imaginative. Hutton said that sets up his favorite
parts: “When Plan A doesn't work and we have to shift into Plan B,
Plan C, Plan D …. You see the characters at their best and worst,
all at the same time.”

Parker is a master at sneaking and
crawling – a role that fits Riesgraf. “I think I would be a
really good cat burglar,” she said with a laugh.

That comes from her girlhood of
tennis, soccer and softball. “I'm certain nowhere near as agile or
limber as an actual gymnast, … but I'm pretty good at crawling
through the air ducts.”

And at breaking chairs over heads. What
more could an actor ask for?

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m. Sundays, TNT

– Second half of the season begins
Nov. 27; that episode reruns at midnight, then 11 p.m. Wednesday
(Nov. 30) and 9 a.m. Dec. 3